Even in the midst of the competitive college basketball conference play that leads up to March Madness, we can’t stop looking forward to the 2013 NBA draft in late June.
There are plenty of intriguing prospects that have been sliding up, falling down, jumping in and getting booted from our Top 30 big board every week of the season so far, and nothing has changed in the Jan. 22 edition.
Let’s take a look at the best players in the nation and rank them based on current stock and perceived value going into the draft.
Please note this isn’t a mock draft; prospects are ordered by overall grade and not by projected draft order.
No. 1: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky (Remains No. 1)
Noel is a big with a motor, an exceedingly rare combination in the NBA these days.
The Wildcats stud may not be as polished as some of the other top prospects or ever become a great scorer, but his athleticism, size and shot-blocking skills make him a slam dunk for a defensive-minded team that needs a poor man’s Anthony Davis.
No. 2: Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA (Remains No. 2)
Muhammad is blooming late and could make a strong case for the No. 1 overall pick by the time the tournament is over.
He’s a top-notch basket generator who isn’t afraid to use his strength to take it to the cup or his touch to fire away from outside. If Muhammad lights it up under the bright lights during March Madness, he will become the most popular player on the board.
No. 3: Ben McLemore, SF, Kansas (Remains No. 3)
Prior to McLemore’s breakout campaign, many knocked this kid for being too old in his first season and a Brandon Rush clone at best.
He’s certainly proved doubters wrong and shown that there isn’t a more productive frosh in the nation. If the Jayhawks star keeps it up by continuing to score points, play defense, grab boards and do all the little things, he’s got a legit chance to go No. 1.
No. 4: Alex Len, C, Maryland (Remains No. 4)
Len is another seven-footer that will garner some interest as a top pick, as he has a dominant low-post game that is absolutely nasty against collegiate foes.
We’re not sold on his skills immediately translating to the NBA, but there is a lot of intrigue here.
No. 5: Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV (Remains No. 5)
Bennett is a beast that uses a combination of strength, finesse and length to get his buckets and pull down boards despite standing at just 6’8”.
This kid is another highly productive machine that could propel to the top of the big board with some stellar performances over the next few months.
No. 6: Michael Carter-Williams, G, Syracuse (Up from No. 8)
Carter-Williams is a pass-first point guard that truly cares about making everyone else around him better.
It’s a quality that NBA teams need in a PG, and we believe his jumper will come with time.
No. 7: Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown (Down from No. 6)
Porter is an all-around solid player who scores, rebounds, plays D, blocks shots, steals the ball and does everything else great, but does nothing elite.
This isn’t a bad thing, and he should be one of the first small forwards to come off the board for his all-around talents.
No. 8: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana (Down from No. 7)
Zeller hasn’t stepped up a ton since last year, which is why we are concerned about his ability to play in the pros at a high level.
While he may be one of the more polished players going into the draft, we just don’t see him ever developing into anything above mediocre.
No. 9: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State (Up from No. 10)
Smart is a coach’s dream, as he runs plays, sets up teammates and isn’t afraid to get to the basket when his squad needs a bucket or a foul.
No. 10: Mason Plumlee, PF, Duke (Up from No. 12)
As with Zeller, Plumlee has the problem of being an extremely productive collegiate player who doesn’t project well in the pros.
However, we believe this 22-year-old will develop into one of the better garbage men in the league and has a ceiling of a rich man’s Kris Humphries. It would not be surprising in the least to see this kid pull down a double-double on a nightly basis and contribute to a championship contender.
No. 11: Alex Poythress, SF, Kentucky (Down from No. 9)
Poythress reminds us of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist—the Wildcats star swingman last year—without the motor.
He’s a beastly athlete that has the tools to defend anyone, get to the cup at will and dominate a game, but lacks the burning desire that truly great players have.
No. 12: Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky (Down from No. 11)
Goodwin will go early simply for his athleticism and upside.
If it turns out he can play more point guard, there’s a chance he could get selected extremely high come June. If not, he’s still valuable for his speed, jumping ability and potential to lock Derrick Rose-types down.
No. 13: Isaiah Austin, PF, Baylor (Remains from No. 13)
Austin is too skinny to seriously think he could ever go down in the post in the NBA.
If he starts bulking up and adds more back-to-the-basket maneuvers, the Bears product will become an early lottery lock. Until then, he’s an overgrown SF that won’t make much of an impact.
No. 14: C.J. McCollum, SG, Lehigh (Remains No. 14)
McCollum is going to remain sidelined for a while due to a foot injury, but he’s still an electric scorer that reminds us a bit of Damian Lillard in that he attended a small school, dominated the competition and should have no problem translating that game when he gets to the next level.
No. 15: Trey Burke, PG, Michigan (Remains No. 15)
On top of Burke's facilitating and scoring qualities, he has a natural tendency toward leadership and that was evident during the Wolverines' winning streak to start the 2012-13 campaign.
He does leave something to be desired at 6’1”, 175 pounds, but undersized PGs have found success in the NBA.
No. 16: Tony Mitchell, SF, North Texas (Up from No. 20)
Before pulling out of last year’s draft, Mitchell was drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant and other elite scorers.
While those turned out to be ridiculous, this tall, athletic swingman does have the physical tools to score at will and could become a No. 1 option down the road.
No. 17: Rudy Gobert, PF, France (Down from No. 16)
Everyone loves to talk about Gobert’s 7’9” wingspan, but we’re not sold on this kid until he shows up on American soil and proves he can handle the opposition.
No. 18: Dario Saric, SF, Croatia (Down from No. 17)
Saric is only 18 years old, but he’s putting on a clinic overseas. We aren’t sure he’s going to make it to the NBA next season, but wouldn’t be surprised to see a contender claim him in the mid-to-late first round in order to stash him in the EuroLeague until he’s ready to come over.
No. 19: Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky (Up from No. 24)
If Cauley-Stein elects to enter the draft, we expect there will be a ton of interest in the talented seven-footer that has come out of seemingly nowhere to impress during his freshman season with the Wildcats.
No. 20: Jamaal Franklin, SG, San Diego State (Down from No. 19)
Franklin is an absurd rebounder for his size, and he’s coming on as a scorer and facilitator during his sophomore year.
If this athlete keeps it up, he’s going to surely land in the mid-first round come draft day.
No. 21: James Michael McAdoo, PF, UNC (Down from No. 18)
McAdoo has an NBA pedigree and was supposedly a lottery lock prior to the season, but he has only managed to submarine his stock during his second year with the Tar Heels.
We imagine he’s not going to go get a dramatic boost back up the big board without having a monstrous tournament performance.
No. 22: Myck Kabongo, PG, Texas (Down from No. 21)
Kabongo reminds us of Rajon Rondo a bit due to his athletic talents, ability to penetrate into the lane and kick out to wide-open teammates.
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to see this in 2012-13, as the NCAA has kept the Longhorns PG on the sidelines. He’ll be back in February and we can truly evaluate his stock then.
No. 23: Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan (Up from No. 25)
Robinson is one of the better young players on a team chock full of them.
Along with Burke, he’s gained the most from the Wolverines' hot start and his NBA pedigree almost ensures he will be taken in the first round if he declares after the season.
No. 24: Jeff Withey, C, Kansas (Down from No. 22)
Withey is a beastly shot-blocker and rebounder with great height, but he simply has to get better at scoring if anyone is going to take him seriously as a starting big at the next level.
No. 25: Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville (Unranked)
Dieng, like Withey, is an older big that grades out as an elite defender, strong rebounder and prolific shot-blocker, but doesn’t have the offensive prowess to go early in the first.
No. 26: B.J. Young, PG, Arkansas (Down from No. 23)
Young hasn’t been setting up his teammates during his time with the Razorbacks and it’s absolutely crushed his stock.
If he does get selected, we expect it’s to become an energy guy off the bench as a scoring PG or undersized 2.
No. 27: Brandon Paul, SG, Illinois (Up from No. 28)
Paul came to the Illini with great expectations but never lived up to them. He’s come on lately as a streaky scorer and we believe that a team will gamble on his upside with a mid-to-late 20s pick.
No. 28: C.J. Leslie, PF, NC State (Up from No. 29)
Leslie is a strange player in that he looks like he should be a top-tier basketball player, but out on the court it just doesn’t show at all times.
When this kid is focused, the sky is the limit, but we need to see more consistency from the 6’8” forward.
No. 29: Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh (Up from No. 30)
Adams is nothing but a big body, but you can’t teach size, and someone will waste a late pick taking this guy if he makes the decision to come out.
No. 30: Kyle Anderson, F, UCLA (Unranked)
Anderson can pass like a point guard but has a small forward body. He’s extremely intriguing and no other player is truly comparable to what he has brought to the table so far.
If he ever figures out how to package all his unique skills, Anderson could become special.
Dropped from Rankings
No. 26: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
No. 27: Le’Bryan Nash, SF, Oklahoma State